Foloi Oak Forest, Peloponnese. Huskarl, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Up to the Homeric age (8th c. BCE), the Greek forest was still dense and abundant, especially on the upper slopes of the mountains.  In addition, the early Greek cities were beginning to explore and trade with other places in the Mediterranean and so had knowledge of the mountains and forests of Lebanon, Syria, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Italy, Sicily, and Corsica. Theophrastus (370-250 BCE) was the first Greek writer to describe and categorize the known plant species. In his work on trees, he emphasized the relationship between the quality of the tree and its habitat: elevation, soil, sunlight, wind, and rain. This concept was known as oikeios, from which we have inherited the word ‘ecology’.  Prime timber forests were associated with mountains and especially with wet west-facing slopes.

Excavations in Italy have shown that, at least up to the fourth century BC, the lower elevations of that country were covered with dense woods of elm, chestnut, and especially oak.  To the north-west of Rome lay the dreaded Ciminian Forest, the Silva Ciminia, which the writer Livy described as being “more impassable and appalling than the forests of Germany”.  The wooded hills were accessible via the great watersheds of the Po, Anio, and Tiber Rivers and before long the early Italians were penetrating the denser stands of pine and fir growing in the high central Apennines, above two thousand feet. Greeks, Persians, Phoenicians, and finally Romans all competed for timber supplies and to claim navigable rivers leading higher and deeper into the forests of the Balkans, North Africa, the Black Sea to the east, and as far west as Spain. By the second century BC, the impenetrable Ciminian Forest had disappeared.